I’m on my 16 day weekend. Sixteen glorious days of sleeping in. They say you can’t bank sleep. “They” are wrong. I do it every weekend and vacation, and draw from the bank during the 183 days of working. I go from getting up at 4:30 AM to about 9:30. For me, that’s the best part of vacations.

This year the weather gods are not smiling on us. We have gone from 80 degree days a mere week and a half ago to five straight days of rain. Twelve inches of rain and lakes in my back yard. I haven’t missed  four days in a row of skating in YEARS. You call this vacation? I couldn’t imagine living in places where they get real weather on a regular basis.

Anyway, before I go into hibernation and start hitting you with reruns  (“If you haven’t seen it, it’s new to you!”), I have a few stories for you. Some of them are even Christmas related, a couple are even mine. (Actually, I started this post last Friday, but…)

I usually try to stick with the routine during the  last week before vacation every year. Usually on the last Friday, it’s raining, and the pe teachers are showing some Pixar movie (this year it was Toy Story III), and half  of the rest of the staff is showing The Little Mermaid and eating cookies, and mean Mr. Coward and the math teachers are squeezing in one last test.

This year it was different. We finished The Midwife’s Apprentice on Wednesday, squeezed our usual Friday test in on Thursday, and then on Friday I threw in the towel, and we watched the first part of cheesy movie version of The Outsiders.

“This is boring.”

“I told you.”

They all freaked about the big ol’ mole on C. Thomas Howell’s (Ponyboy) neck. When he wakes up and rolls over during the scene in the park, it is revealed it its entirety–in hindsight you do catch glimpses beforehand–and even I have to admit it’s mighty distracting. It’s a big ol’ thing. The kids all think he got cut in the jumping, and it’s a big wound. No dice, cheese slice.

“Is he still alive? I bet it was cancer.”

The only other business on Friday was collecting a short writing assignment. I call these ones “Perfect Papers.” One year I got so sick of the parade of obvious and easily-fixed mechanical errors in their papers that I instituted the “Perfect Paper” requirement.

Back in my Jesuit high school days, Father Piquado would grade the paper for content, and then deduct one full letter grade for each mechanical mistake he found. I had a couple A papers turned into F’s through careless typing/proofreading.

I had sworn I wasn’t going to go there, that mechanics were just a part of what I was supposed to be looking for in the kids’ writing.

But in the last 10 years it has gotten to be too much (or dos mucho, as my brother used to say in his intentionally mangled Spanglish that drove Father Hernandez batty.) So now about once a month they have to give me a 300 word paper with absolutely no mistakes. I do not care about the content, only the proofreading. SOmetimes I assign a generic topic (music, tv, etc.), and sometimes I leave it competely open. It just has to have a point of some kind (“That thesis might be, ‘Spongebob should be taught in schools, or cheese is a good building material…”); just as long is it’s not just random sentences strung together. It’s worth 40 points, and I take 5 points off for each mistake (half the severity of Fr. Piquado’s system), so eight mistakes gets you a zero (instead of four).

“Have your mom read it, and your dad, and your older sister. Read it out loud to your dog. Keep it simple. Just pay attention.”

I try to assign about seven or eight throughout the year, and if/when they get two perfect 40/40’s they get to stop doing the assignment. It’s the old carrot and stick approach I love so much.

So on Friday morning, here’s one kid putting the finishing touches on his Perfect #2 before he puts it in the basket. This is the same boy who until last week thought the KBAR acronym had an extra A, as in KABAR.

“So what does NDP in the upper right corner mean?”

(rubbing eyes in frustration) “It STILL stands for name, date, period.”

“Name, ‘Simon Stevens,’ date, December 17, 2010–hey my birthday is in 12 days–period.”

“You’re in first period, remember?”

“What? I know THAT.”

“So, name, date, PERIOD…?”

“I put the period.”

“Oh, ok, I just didn’t hear you say it when you wrote it like you did the rest. You wrote first?”

“First what?”

And now we’re in the junior high version of “Who’s on First?”

“First period.”

“First period what?”

(losing my last-day-before-vacation tranquility) “First Period English.”

“Did you want us to write English on there too? Is that before or after the period?”

He thought by period I meant the punctuation symbol. Simon Stevens 12/17/10. Period.

Then there was the ink requirement.

“Simon, you also know that these papers are supposed to be in ink, or printed from your computer. No pencil.”

“But how do you fix mistakes?”


He went to the library and spent a dime photocopying it, and gave me the copy. Et voila: ink! No, it wasn’t his idea. The genius behind him helped him out.

Here are a couple of hilarious Christmas stories to warm your hearts, and tide you through. The first one is a great story of one girl’s quest to stage the Nativity for her family:

How Kenny Loggins Ruined Christmas

(Remind me to tell my Kenny Loggins memory from my early college days.)

The second is a video that shows what the Nativity might be like with today’s online social media:

Happy Holidays!